Friday, July 17, 2009

Blood...Just As Entertaining As Its Animated Counterpart

In Blood: The Last Vampire, Saya (Gianna Jun) boasts beauty-queen looks and samurai-level sword skills, and her talent as a vampire hunter is unrivaled. But Saya is herself half-vampire, thanks to her bloodsucking mother and human father. This live-action update of the anime favorite finds Saya on the hunt for Onigen (Koyuki), the mother of all vampires.

Blood: The Last Vampire is as good as any Hollywood movie, which is to say it’s got lousy visual effects and generic dialogue. Since we’re already forgiving that anyway, there’s enough engaging action to make it plenty fun and entertaining. Saya (Gianna) is half human, half vampire (though the movie says demon). Since she still looks like a teenager at 400 years old, she can go undercover as a schoolgirl on a military base. Taking place in Post WWII period, vampire hunter Saya is appointed to the local army base to infiltrate a school teeming with vampires under the guise of the living. Gianna Jun is a lion as the vicious but silent Saya who is given the task of being the only living being able to bring down vampires and demons for the US government and this taxes her to the degree where she finds she's (much to her surprise) pretty much outnumbered. If you've seen the original my description sounds pretty closely based on the original except that Saya is more closely characterized with intimate moments between she and her relatives and how she got her start working as a vampire hunter. When the general’s daughter Alice (Allison Miller) catches her chopping up school bullies, she unintentionally gets involved with Saya’s hunt for the evil Onigen. The film looks shiny and polished, so that compares favorably to the big blockbusters. There are unknown faces playing the familiar genre types and they are not as reliable. The crotchety general (Larry Lamb) really hams it up. Lamb can’t even play a bad parent believably. Generic guys in suits say lines that they’ve heard in other movies as exposition. Racist teen bitches are more The Hills than Mean Girls but it sure is fun to see them slaughtered. Giana is quick and strong, and silent, which equals badass as Saya. Who doesn’t like a kick-ass schoolgirl? Miller is actually quite good as the human sidekick. She has a Rachel McAdams quality and feels sincere and sympathetic, even though it’s the standard outsider discovering this magical realm with family issues role. 

The fights are relentless, which makes them cool even though the effects are bad. Fighting off a horde of vampires while protecting Alice simultaneously is cool multitasking. They utilize some familiar wire moves but throw in some clever kills. They use speed ramping or jump cutting to make Saya super fast, and since I can’t pinpoint the technique on my own, it sold me. The monsters are laughable, but the ideas are worth forgiving. A bat vamp chasing after a plane is much cooler than the Twilight vampire jumping on trees, which didn’t look any better anyway. They attempt a Spielberg sequence with a truck falling down a chasm. Good effort. Saya’s sword kick is a good signature move. Sometimes the villains just line up for a slaughter, but they still deliver good kills. All of the blood splatters are CGI, which look ridiculous. The benefit is that without having to worry about squibs, the choreographer could do whatever wild action he wanted. The downside is we have to look at fake blood sprays. That’s Hollywood though, so can’t blame the little guys if the big guys don’t do it any better. I may watch Blood: The Last Vampire again, despite its flaws. It had enough memorable action, and I’ve certainly praised movies with more exposition. Blood: The Last Vampire earns its keep by doing a lot with a little. As quickie exploitation films go, it fails to rise above decidedly lowered expectations, and anyone hoping for the second coming of Crouching Tiger is in for a big disappointment. The presence of a non-English director (Chris Nahon) does little to improve the less-than-stellar dialogue, and its special effects won't make anyone sit up and cheer. Yet it retains a certain inventiveness when blocking its copious action scenes, and succeeds in delivering some basic thrills in an energetic and quick-paced manner. We've reached the time of year when that's all that really matters. Blood: The Last Vampire works as a dual layered film that adapts the anime while expanding on the mythos of the original in spite of the paper thin plot. Newcomers need apply for this pretty raucous action horror. If anything watch it for the cool vamps and powerful performance from star Jun. Not GREAT, but good for what it is; highly entertaining. This gets a 3 on my "Go See" scale.

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